Sneaky Sewing Savings: Laundry Soap

Last week when I wrote about what is arguably the crappiest sewing machine on earth, I offered to share some of the things I do around the house to “save” money. I use my savings to buy sewing stuff or things I can’t possibly construe as “for the house/family.”  Like the Astoria shoes I want and don’t technically need.

Some people work and trade their time/skills for actual money- wage earners.  Other people work very hard indeed without drawing a paycheck- home-makers.  (And many people do a little of both.) Household tasks have tremendous value, even if it is in “savings” for the home and family rather than an actual wage.

Often, I give myself a little extra housework “in exchange” for guilt-free pocket money.  In our house we live on a pretty tight budget and always have, so over time I developed a system of dozens of little odd jobs I assign myself in exchange for discretionary funds.  I mean jobs that go above and beyond regular housework, and that I can quantify.

One of these regular jobs is making laundry soap.  When Miss Smith at Home posted about this over a year ago, I was skeptical.  It didn’t seem right to me- what, make my own laundry soap for a dollar or two?  Is that a thing, do people do that?  Will it work?  Is it gross?

A year later, I can say it does work quite well, it’s not gross and it’s cheap.  Following Miss Smith’s example, I figured out my costs:

1 bar sunlight soap- $ 0.52

250g washing soda- $0.90

7L of detergent / 1/2c per load= ~56 loads = $1.42 or $0.03/load

Before I started making my own, I used a front-loading liquid detergent:

$14.99/42 loads

$0.36/load.

$0.36 x 56(loads) = $ 20.16 for the same number of washes I get from my home-made soap.

$20.16-$1.42= $18.74 savings

Of course, prices are astronomical in Australia, and I choose liquid as it seems to be gentler on my clothes.  It’s usually more expensive than powdered.  Your own price spread will vary.  It takes me half an hour to make a batch that will last for 6 or so weeks.  We’re a small family, I imagine the savings would be greater for larger families.

Laundry Soap Recipe: (It’s not rocket science, think of it as making a bucket of soapy water)

1 Bar plain soap (I use sunlight or whatever I have to hand)

1 c Washing Soda/ sodium carbonate (laundry isle or in the pool supply section)

1c Baking soda (sometimes, add it with the washing soda)

Grate the soap.

Dissolve the soap flakes in 2L of boiling water (a kettle full) in a bucket.  Stir it around for a while.

Add 1c washing powder.  Stir while adding another 5L of water to nearly fill the bucket.  Stir until it is all dissolved.

Pour it into containers- I used old vinegar jugs, clean milk jugs would work well too.

I leave a little “headroom” to shake it before use; sometimes the soap sets firmly.  I use about 1/2c at a time, though that may be more than strictly necessary.

That’s it!  $18.74 isn’t a huge deal but it’s not bad for half an hours’ of work.   It comes out to around $162.41 over the course of a year- not an astronomical sum, but a useful bit of pocket money.  (Maybe if I made a year’s worth of laundry soap all at one time, I could justify the Astorias…)

Besides, I’m sure making my own laundry soap is somehow vaguely “green,” which is always a plus.

Do you quantify the work you do around the home?  How?  Do you ever trade a little extra effort for a bit of pocket money?

This might be an odd question but I’m curious- do you use paper towels / kitchen paper in your home?  How many rolls per week?

Tomorrow: Skirt re-fashion!  Or bag stencils!  Something awesome, anyway!


53 comments

  1. I am all about the savings and that is a great recipe! Am keen to give it a go :D

    Also, I like to get crazy and use coconut oil for hair conditioner and as a moisturiser in the shower. Cheap as chips, leaves my hair and skin feeling soft (curse you Canberra dryness!) and I like the very faint smell of coconut.

    And side note: thanks so much for the tweet of my skirt! So stoked!

    • Coconut oil, eh? I might go there… My MIL put me onto using Sorbolene for my skin… But that’s another post!

      Well, thanks for making an awesome skirt. :)

    • I do this too (use oil for hair conditioner) except I use almond oil. It smells divine, keeps my scalp from itching during the winter, and makes my hair so silky smooth! The trick, I’ve found, is to wash your hair with soap, oil it up (massage into scalp) let it sit, and then shampoo it out with slightly warmer than normal water. Works like a charm!

      We use paper towels here and probably go through a roll every 2-3 weeks. Mostly, I use them in cleaning vs. daily use as napkins (we use washable fabric napkins). Toilet paper, however, is at a premium around here!

    • Careful with coconut oil – it’s considered comedogenic (pore-clogging). My internet-perusing seems to suggest that it bothers some people but not others, but it’s something to keep in mind! I like to use olive oil or, for real luxury, jojoba oil for moisturizing. I use it for shaving my legs too! And in an oil-cleansing mixture for my face (along with olive oil, also for moisturizing, and castor oil for cleansing pores), which I know sounds weird, but is actually great for the skin, and results in needing far fewer products, and nothing unnatural. Hooray for that!

      I will definitely have to look into making my own detergent….the natural kind we’re buying now works well and doesn’t exacerbate my allergies, but it’s so pricey!

  2. I buy eco detergents because I don’t like the idea of all the chemicals but the only thing I’ve tried making myself is toilet cleaner. I don’t think it came out any cheaper than buying the Ecover brand in a 5L bottle because the bicarbonate of soda isn’t cheap and I was using a lot of it. I’d like to try making other products in the future, though.

    When it comes to paper towels, I don’t like using them but we need them for when a cat is sick or poos outside of the litter tray. I think a 2 roll pack lasts for a couple of months as we mostly use reusable cloths.

    • Neat… I want to branch out into other cleaners as well… We use a lot of white vinegar around the house, it works for so many many things…

  3. How do you find this is on darks? I always buy a specialty dark wash as I’ve noticed it makes a big difference over how the black fades (and my husband, in particular, wears a lot of black…), which in turn makes a big difference in how many clothes we end up buying. Other than that, bravo! Right up there with home-made bread, IMO.

    I didn’t buy paper towels for a long, long time. I use rags for nearly everything. That being said, there are a few (very few) things that it’s nice to be able to just throw out the paper—like catching the grease under bacon (it never really comes out of the rag after, I tried), so I do buy the odd roll now and then. I’d say we don’t go through more than three or four a year at most, though. The toilet-paper would be a much bigger issue, but I’m not ready to forego that. ;) We used to buy the recycled brand for that, but the quality of it tanked several years back, so I stopped.

    • I find the line-drying in the sun does more to fade my darks than anything else… Nice darks get hung up on the line under my house now… I really haven’t noticed a difference in colors… You can always throw in a little dye setter… I forget what it’s called but its in the dyeing section… I add it to my colored loads every once in a while, it helps keeps the colors bright/dark longer.

      Toilet paper is an interesting one… And feminine hygeine products… But I’m not quite ready to go there, either.

  4. I’ve never thought of trading my housework time for spending money (though I do trade tasks with my guy because we both dislike some things, like I’ll do his laundry if he cooks or puts up a shelf or something). But as far as using “green” methods, it’s slow converting him to not use paper towels. We only go through maybe one roll in 2-3 weeks, so not bad.
    Does the laundry soap you make get everything just as clean as store bought detergent?

    • Yes. I’m kind of into my clothes, so I wouldn’t use something- no matter how cheap- if it didn’t work well. :) It’s actually “cleaner” in a way, there’s not a lot of fragrance in my clean clothes. They just smell like clean cotton, or linen, or whatever.

  5. I use fabric cloths for the kitchen surfaces and jobs around the house, and proper handkerchiefs too. Haven’t bought paper ones for ages, as long as you get a clean one each time and soak/wash them it’s fine. My daughter now uses cloth nappies and wipes for her children. I do use paper loo roll for cleaning up after pet accidents (yuck). I will be trying this washing liquid though. The fewer chemicals the better I say!! X

    • Yes- we use rags a LOT too, I wasn’t sure if that’s a thing we do or a thing everyone does. I have so many rags, I sort them into types.. The icky ones are the nearly dead ones.. I use those for gross jobs and throw them away.

  6. Making your own laundry soap is more than vaguely green if only for the reduction of plastic containers.
    My darks get a 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar added to the rinse water. We have hard water here in Pittsburgh and I find the vinegar keeps my dark sheets from getting chalky streaks on them, and it also make my towels soft without decreasing their absorbency. Cheaper than fabric softener and easier on the environment.
    We go through a roll of paper towels about every six weeks. I prefer to use them for kitchen work, especially if I’m handling raw meat, and we also use them for hairball duty. For cleaning, though, I use cloth rags. A bundle of microfiber cloths from the automotive department is fairly cheap and they last forever. I bought a bunch of cheapo white face flannels about 3 years ago and they’re also lasting well. They’re super for smallish cleaning jobs, or for wiping things down with bleach.
    I have discovered though, if I use bleach with one and my Loki gets hold of it, it’s toast. For some reason he prefers the scent of bleach to that of catnip and will just kill the heck out of that rag.

    • I tell myself it saves on transportation costs and pollution, too… And I admit I get a charge out of buying less “product.” I hate anything that advertisers try to manipulate me into buying.. . But enough of THAT for now…

      Yes! Vinegar in the wash is the BEST. It really freshens up fibers, I started using it when we used cloth diapers and they needed a little extra help. (I was using commercial detergent in those days..)

      I use old scraps of knit fabrics and dead t-shirts for rags… I also have a stack of old terrycloth diapers. We never used them as such but they make AWESOME cleaning rags.

  7. Great recipe. It’s crossed my mind to make my own laundry soap from time to time (or invest in soap nuts) but I haven’t yet.

    I like using diluted apple cider vinegar for conditioner. I do have some actual conditioners, but I only use them maybe once a week so they last a very long time. I do find my hair dries more quickly after using the ACV vs. conditioner.

    On one of the first visits from my in laws to my house (rather than husband’s apartment, I wasn’t territorial there) I really struggled and cleaning products were a part of that. I was trying to move away from more traditional cleaners as I used them up, switching to vinegar & water in a spray bottle or eco-friendly stuff. I also wanted fewer products, things that were more versatile. While I was at work they had bought Windex, Fantastic, Mr. Clean, etc. because they couldn’t find cleaners in my house. I did not react very well to those well intentioned actions.

    • oh dear! :) Had to smile, my in-laws can be a bit like that… They “get” cleaning products, but act like some of the other stuff I do is far beyond the pale.

      We use mostly vinegar for cleaning too, and it’s really wonderful. Do you ever use clove oil for soft furnishings? I dilute a few drops in a spray bottle and give things a spritz every once in a while. It prevents mildew, kills mold, and smells nice.

      • Clove oil, no.. can’t say I have, but I will. I love citrus smells so I usually add a few drops of essential oil to my vinegar & water spray bottle. I’ll give clove a try, I do have some around here already.

        I saw the comment above about fem care. I was always a tampon kinda girl (worked in a pool, pads weren’t really an option as a teen) but had to use pads at a doctors request which reminded me why I hated them. I made my own and I use them more now than tampons.

        • Oh! I keep thinking I should try them… I mean, if you use cloth diapers on a kid, it’s not much of a stretch of the mind and sensibilities to move on to making your own pads… But I still have yet to do it.

  8. I only use paper towels for cleaning the toilet. It’s my one finicky hangup, because I just can’t stand using cloth for that. I haven’t tried laundry soap because we usually buy a huge amount when it goes on sale for next to nothing (about 2X per year at our store,so we’re lucky).
    We save money on clothes (second hand or me-made, although my man still thinks it’s not quite right to wear 2nd hand clothes. I’m trying to convert him.), gas / petrol (walk to work), mow our own lawn / shovel our own snow / clean our own house in this suburban land of services, grow our own herbs, breastfeed (I didn’t do it for the savings, but it didn’t hurt to save ~$2000 in formula for each kid!)…
    I’ll give your laundry soap recipe a try when I run out!

    • My finicky hang up is bleaching the toilet bowl. I just won’t not do it. ;)

      It’s amazing how many things are at the same time money-saving/green/good for your health. Like walking places, shoveling snow, etc.

      Breastfeeding is awesome. Aside from the nutrition, convenience and money savings, I felt like my body was superhero strong and nurturing…

  9. Steph this is very exciting stuff. Do you have a front loader? I want to try this and see if our plooty Bosch beast will cope.
    We use as little disposable stuff as we can. A roll of paper towels lasts us over a year! I buy those shower cap plastic covers instead of gladwrap, use ovenware with lids instead of foil, reuse silicon baking paper many times before turfing it, use plastic bags from wrapping other products, I never buy new ones, we keep the few plastic shopping bags we get instead of using fabric ones for a range of other things.
    All these things reduce our outputs in terms of money as well as waste products and every time another stupid, unnecessary disposable product appears on TV ads, I have to restrain myself from throwing something at it. Disposable dusters are the latest, ARGH!!! ;-)

    • Yes. I have a front-loader. It’s also water efficient, no problems with using this soap in a year.

      Shower caps! Hey! That’s a new one on me… Sometimes we just don’t buy plastic wrap, but then it sneaks back in because its useful. I hate throwing it away and knowing it’s probably going to end up in the Pacific Gyre, so this is better. Thank you!

      I hear you about consumer goods. Makes me positively cranky.

      • I love that you admit the need for us all to have an ‘old lady rant’ from time to time so I knew you would understand. :) The ‘shower caps’ is what we call these Glad food covers that look exactly like the shower caps you get in a hotel. Here’s a link. I wash and reuse them and they last years – I don’t even have a roll of gladwrap any more! http://www.clorox.com.au/Food_Management/handi_covers/body_handi_covers.htm
        I
        And I use tupperware type containers a lot – if it needs covering it gets put in a container with a lid. Such little things but they make us feel like we’re doing our bit!
        LOVE LOVE LOVE the skirt, btw!!!

      • They are also very easy to sew using rip stop nylon and a thin elastic. Glad to see that I am not the only one who thinks this way.

  10. You make it seem so easy! I’m totally inspired to try.

    At home, I use fabric napkins for most things, but we do keep paper towels around. I make my own fabric napkins by folding over and hemming the edges of a fat quarter. They are the perfect size and I can make them in a great variety of colors and patterns. Usually it takes a couple washings to wear them in and get them soft. I just use quilting cotton, but want to try flannel, that might absorb even more liquids.

    • It is suuuuper easy. I treated it like a chemistry experiment the first few times I made it, then I realized what I was making. Soapy water. Duh. I do use gloves though, because the washing soda can be tough on my skin.

      Great idea… I love big napkins, a fat quarter size would be perfect!

  11. Man I cheat on so many things, just to have some extra $$ to rub together when I have my next fabric/pattern craving… I have looked into the laundry detergent thing, but have trouble getting the washing soda anywhere but online, and once you add shipping, you’re better off buying your laundry detergent… I do use a lot of vinegar and baking soda for all sorts of things, including shampoo…

    • I found a HUGE tub of sodium carbonate in a pool supply store, they use it to boost the PH in pools. Then I found it in the grocery store. (Silly me…)

  12. I used to use sunlight soap to wash nappies – grated, add a bit of boiling water till it turns into a sort of gel – but I found it made fabric slightly water repellant. Which is not a good thing for nappies. I recently started using soapnuts, which will apparently work out to 9c/load. The price doesn’t bother me though, what I like is that it doesnt irritate anyone’s skin – and we have 3 out of 4 member of the household with eczema. I also use baking soda and vingegar as shamppo, and glass cleaner, and surface cleaner…
    We don’t use paper towel, I have a stack of threadbare terrytowel nappies that get used as cleaning cloths, and a stack of cloth napkins for very messy dinners.

    • Soap nuts sound good… I need to look into those.

      My sister was always WAY sensitive to detergents and dyes.. There was 1 detergent mom could use without her breaking out…

  13. I’m intrigued by this. It would be useful in so far as it will lessen out chemical contact, and to save on plastic containers, but I don’t know that it will save much money. I can get very reasonably priced detergent here. I’ve looked into making my own soap and toothpaste, but to set myself up with the starter supplies seems so expensive. But I think it will be worth it in the end.

    • I messed around with making my own soap last year… It was alright, not awesome but alright. I should get back into that… I have the scales and the lye and everything lying around…

      The great thing about this is the starter supplies are not expensive at all… If you can find the washing soda. Baking soda is not the same thing….

  14. I’m definitely going to try this! Especially since every time I send Mr D to get laundry soap, no matter how explicit my instructions (right down to sending him with an empty bottle) I end up with something that gives me sniffles, a rash, and a headache. Dang chemical sensitivities.

    We do use paper towels, but only about 1 roll every two months or so. Other than that I’m very into rags. I use all my little sewing scraps that I can’t work into something else for the things I’d normally use a paper towel for – all that cotton muslin from toiles is great for wiping things up!

    • Oh dear! Stephen and I have similiar mis-understandings when I send him out for things… I say one thing, he thinks I meant something else entirely, hilarity ensues… ;)

  15. Hey, I use the exact some recipe! Except I don’t add water – I use it as a powder, which seems to work better for our machine (also an efficient frontloader, and no problems there).

    My resolution last year was not to use wrapping paper on gifts, so I got creative with old maps, recycled brown paper, fabric scraps, etc. and it worked really well.

    I am also making my own shampoo and washing-up liquid. This scores high on “eco-friendly” but low on “budget” because the main ingredient in my current recipes is liquid castile soap, which is pricey.

    This year I would like to cut down on plastic packaging on things like packets of rice and pasta. (Again, this is really about the cost to the environment, not the budget, and it will probably mean buying from the more expensive “organic” stores where you can fill re-usuable containers).

    • oh- wow neat. As a powder. I never thought of that… Thanks!

      We tend to buy rice and so forth in bulk and fill our own canisters… I haven’t found a grocery store that does the whole “re-fillable” thing.

  16. I’m another soapnut nut! Just ordered my second bag, a 500g bag has lasted me maybe nearly a year? I have wanted to make my own laundry powder or liquid in the past but never got around to it; just bought the eco-friendly stuff. Well done you! One of the best things about the soapnuts in my opinion is that the grey water is so perfect for the garden.
    Like you, I totally justify purchases of ‘little luxuries’ like nice fabric or books by the amount I save on other household things.
    We use a little bit of kitchen paper towel, mostly for covering things that are being reheated in the microwave so they don’t splat everywhere. But mostly in the kitchen we use little cloths that I have made out of cut up old cloth nappies. We never used them very much as cloth nappies, despite good intentions, but boy have they come in handy as general absorbent wiper-uppers of just about anything! I have so many of the little cut up cloths (hemmed on the overlocker) that we use several each day, meaning there’s always a fresh one on hand. They’re great for wiping sticky little hands and faces too. I wish I’d been better at this frugal stuff when my kids were babies, we would have saved a lot on nappies, wipes, tissues etc.

    • Soapnuts sound great, I should really look into them. Thanks for the tips!

      I use and reuse rags, as well… And when Lila was a baby, we did clothe diapers and etc… Kind of expensive to buy all at once, but it paid for itself. The daily washing wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be….

  17. You can also buy your bleach at a pool supply place. Pool shock that is pure calcium hypochlorite is basically freeze dried bleach. (Do not get the kind with added fungicides for this purpose.) One heaping teaspoon mixes into 2 gallons of water to make bleach. Use only a plastic or glass container to avoid chemical reactions. The strong chlorine solution is 500 mg chlorine per liter. If you are in part of the world where you need to treat your drinking water, add 1 part chlorine solution to each 100 parts water to be treated. This is roughly equal to adding 1 pint (16 ounces) of stock chlorine to each 12.5 gallons of water to be disinfected.

  18. I’ve seen recipes for laundry soap, but never tried them. Maybe I’ll try this. I haven’t exactly quantified my housework (: but I do think about how much I save by making food from scratch (especially since even eating fast food isn’t cheap for a family of 7). We use cloth napkins (handmade, no less) at the table and washrags instead of paper towels- that saves more than you’d think. Guests at our house do get confused at the absence of paper towels or napkins – it somehow feels wrong to use cloth!

    I have to admit sometimes I think of a potential expenditure in terms of “how much fabric could I buy with that money instead?”.

  19. Ooo, I like the idea of making my own laundry soap! I’m going to write this out for next time I need soap. Because crud, I just bought a jug of it today. :)

    I’ll keep a roll of paper towels around, just in case, but I generally try to avoid using them. I’ve been using the same roll since I moved into my apartment last October, and that includes going through the move-in clean-up. I’d prefer to avoid them completely, but there are times having them on hand is useful. Do you use paper towels?

    • Nah, I don’t use them, but I probably don’t have a typical kind of household so I wasn’t sure if that would be one of those “My Stars! You don’t need paper towels?” type things, or a no-brainer. I’m sure it’s a no-brainer, but I think my requiem for the wholesome dress will be a post on rag-making….

      • I used to use paper towels a lot more when I lived in Kingston Ontario, because the city had a composting program and I’d use the paper towels to keep things getting too wet and gross at the bottom of the composting container. Plus the towels were compostable, so bonus! I felt less guilty using them.

        Here, I really don’t need them, and probably won’t replenish the roll when I run out. There’s just no need when you can make rags out of old cloth.

        I am sad to hear about the final destination of the wholesome dress. :( But at least it’ll still be useful. (silver lining?)

  20. When I was at high school mum made shampoo with ends of soap which I think she boiled with water (I think) so it came together and then we rinsed with plain old white vinegar as conditioner. It worked fine I guess because I don’t remember being teased particularly at high school. I haven’t tried this though should.

    We use paper towels a bit but I HATE HATE glad wrap and don’t use it except to rise bread. JJ insists on wrapping his daily work sarnies in the stuff and refuses to use containers (like tupperware) but I do for leftovers and everything else. I do use paper lunch wrap for the kids but will stop that soon, I bake bread every other day (great no-knead recipe) and have started veg gardening. I am the only one in the house without sensitive skin so will try your laundry detergent – the EcoStore band we buy is good but pricey.

    • My husband is playing around with baking soda and vinegar instead of shampoo… But I’m pretty tied to the henna shampoo that I use and my half a$$ attempts at his alternative stuff wasn’t very impressive. Maybe if I tried harder… But I do like the shampoo I use already….

      I hate glad wrap too. And plastic baggies. They seem so wasteful. I want to try making my own reusable lunch wraps, there’s some great patterns out there but I haven’t gotten around to it…

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